The 8 most infamous criminals at America's toughest prison

Known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies,” the ADX maximum security prison in Florence Colorado is home to some of the most violent criminals in US history.

The ADX opened in 1994 to fill the void left by the now-shuttered penitentiaries of Alcatraz and Marion. It’s designed to contain “a very small subset of the inmate population who show absolutely no concern for human life,”
in the words of Norman Carlson, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

It’s the only federal supermax prison in the country.

A lawsuit filed against the ADX over its allegedly improper treatment of mentally ill inmates has shed new light on the prison’s bleak conditions, The New York Times reported recently.

That article also points out that ADX houses some of America’s worst criminals, and below we’ve highlighted some of the more notorious inmates:

1. Eric Rudolph, the Atlanta Olympics bomber

Before his arrest in 2003, Eric Rudolph was on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list for orchestrating a series of anti-gay and anti-abortion-motivated bombings in Georgia and Alabama. On July 27, 1996, Rudolph bombed the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta during the Summer Olympics, killing one and injuring 111 people.

Rudolph later released a statement explaining he planned the attack to embarrass the US government for allowing abortion.

Wikimedia CommonsEric Rudolph

“Abortion is murder. And when the regime in Washington legalised, sanctioned and legitimized this practice, they forfeited their legitimacy and moral authority to govern,” the statement said.

Rudolph spent more than five years as a fugitive in the Appalachian wilderness “clinging to the fringes of society in a neat ridge-top camp only 200 yards from two strip malls and the high school,” Patrik Jonsson wrote in the Christian Science Monitor.

When plants and insects proved insufficient, Rudolph raided dumpsters for food in nearby towns. It was during one of these dumpster raids when Rudolph was finally arrested by a rookie police officer behind a Save-A-Lot store in Murphy, North Carolina.

2. Terry Nichols, the Oklahoma City bomber

On April 19, 1995, a bomb killed 168 people in Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. That bomb was planted in a nearby truck by

Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh. Nichols met McVeigh while serving in the military, and the two — who shared a hatred of government and of black people — became fast friends.

Terry nichols bombingAP ImagesTerry Nichols

Nichols became increasingly radical in his anti-government views, and he attempted to renounce his US citizenship twice in 1992. When McVeigh was discharged from the army in late 1991, the two lived together off and on.

One night, they were watching TV at Nichols’ farmhouse in Michigan when news broke that the ATF, Army, and FBI had ambushed a religious compound in Waco, Texas. After that, an enraged Nichols and McVeigh began plotting their revenge on the federal government.

McVeigh was arrested the day of the bombing, tried, and sentenced to death. He was executed in June 2001. Nichols turned himself in shortly after the explosion and is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.

3. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was a pious Muslim who studied engineering at University College London before travelling to Yemen to study Arabic in August 2009. There, he organised a Christmas day attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 with the help of terrorists associated with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Umar Farouk AbdulmutallabWikimedia CommonsUmar Farouk Abdulmutallab

As the plane, en route from Amsterdam, approached its final destination of Detroit on Dec. 25, 2009, then-23-year-old Abdulmutallab went to the bathroom and planted a homemade explosive device in his underwear.

The bomb malfunctioned, sparking nothing more than a small fire and leaving Abdulmutallab with first- and second-degree burns on his legs.

US Customs and Border Protection arrested Abdulmutallab at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. He later told them that he had obtained the device in Yemen and had been acting on behalf of AQAP. He’s serving a life sentence at ADX without the possibility of parole.

4. Michael Swango, the doctor who poisoned up to 60 patients

Also known as “Dr. Death,” Swango admitted in 2000 that he fatally poisoned three patients at a hospital in Long Island. He had a history of demented behaviour, according to a book about his life by James B. Stewart.

Michael Swango(AP Photo/Ed Betz)Michael Swango, right, is escorted by a U. S. marshal out of Federal Court.

Beginning in 1983, Swango came under scrutiny for the death of an elderly neurosurgery patient who experienced respiratory failure shortly after a nurse saw Swango injecting something into her IV.

Over the next 15 years, there were other fatalities linked to Swango: five patients at Southern Illinois University, five at Ohio State Medical Center, five at a Veterans Administration Hospital in Northport, New York, and more than 20 people in Zimbabwe.

Swango also allegedly falsified his own employment records, likely to conceal the two years he served at a prison in the ’80s for administering arsenic to five of his co-workers at an ambulance service in his hometown of Quincy, Illinois. He may have poisoned up to 16 other people.

As a local Connecticut news service put it, “Only he knows how many people he killed, and only he knows why.”

Swango is serving three consecutive life sentences at the ADX. HBO is developing a true-life tale of his killings to be called “Swango.”

5. Larry Hoover, the Gangster Disciples kingpin

In the early ’70s, Larry Hoover took over what would soon become Chicago’s largest gang, the Gangster Disciples. By the mid-’90s, the formerly disorganized group, wrought with infighting, became a multi-state drug operation, functioning almost like a legitimate corporation.

“They had armies of lawyers and accountants. They had their own clothing line, music promotion company, political action committee. They had a structure that helped them insulate the leaders from the drugs and the guns,” Ron Safer, a former assistant US attorney who prosecuted Hoover in the 1990s, has told the Chicago Tribune.

Remarkably, Hoover orchestrated much of this transformation from behind bars. He was convicted and sentenced to 150 to 200 years in prison in 1973 for the murder of William Young, who was reportedly stealing money from the GDs.

While behind bars, Hoover changed the meaning of his group’s acronym to “Growth and Development,” supposedly a community-service organisation. He began telling his nationwide group of followers to ditch the guns and drugs, educate themselves, and contribute to society. The group even founded 21st Century V.O.T.E., a political action organisation as well as other nonprofits dedicated to improving inner-city Chicago.

But in 1997, authorities caught Hoover on tape discussing the gang’s extensive drug operations with his visitors in prison. Despite acknowledging some of Hoover’s more worthwhile efforts, a federal judge added more charges to his already hefty sentence. Hoover is serving six consecutive life sentences at the ADX.

Since then, many GDs have gone back to their old ways, causing Chicago’s crime rate to soar in 2012. Records show that 100 of the 392 homicide victims in the city that year had ties to the Disciples.

6. Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber

Kaczynski got a promising start: He was accepted into Harvard at the tender age of 17 and studied advanced mathematics at the Ivy League university.

Between 1978 and 1995, however, he mailed 16 bombs to universities and facilities across the country, killing three people and injuring 23 others.

Ted Kaczysnki Unabomber

Straight Dope
Ted Kaczynski, left, and a sketch the FBI used to identify him, right

In 1995, Kazcynski blackmailed The New York Times and Washington Post into publishing his 35,000 word manifesto, “Industrial Society and Its Future,” which expressed his motivations for mailing the bombs. Kaczynski had threatened to send a bomb to an unspecified location with the “intent to kill” if the paper didn’t print his words. The manifesto criticised the “left” for embracing technology, which led to an over-centralised government, and humans eventually losing the capabilities to think for themselves.

On the FBI’s list of Top 10 Most Wanted at one point, Kaczynski, now 72, was apprehended largely because his brother, David, suspected he was the Unabomber. He’s serving a life sentence at the ADX.

7. Zacarias Moussaoui, the 9/11 conspirator

Zacarias Moussaoui, a 46-year-old French native serving life in prison for his role in the 9/11 attacks, made headlines last month when he claimed members of al-Qaida had received extensive financial support from Saudi Arabia throughout the late 1990s and into 2000.

Known as the “20th hijacker,” Moussaoui pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring to kill citizens of the US as part of the September 11 attacks.

In 2006, he withdrew his guilty plea, saying that he was not involved in the 9/11 conspiracy but was “part of another al-Qaida plot which was to occur after September 11.” He’s serving a life sentence at ADX without the possibility of parole.

In rare testimony from inside ADX, Moussaoui said he was instructed by al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan to create a database of all of the donors to the terrorist group. Among the donors, he claims, were prominent members of the Saudi royal family.

8. Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing

Ramzi yousef terroristIslam-watch.orgRamzi Yousef

On Feb. 26, 1993, a 1,000 pound car bomb detonated in the garage below the World Trade Center, killing six people and injuring 1,042 others. Yousef, a member of al-Qaida, and three others, planned it.

Yousef also conspired to explode 12 US jetliners in midair. In court, he famously said, “Yes, I am a terrorist and proud of it …”

In early April, two Queens women were arrested and charged on suspicion of building a bomb. One of them, Noelle Velentzas, showed an undercover officer a picture of Yousef that she carried with her.

Yousef is serving 240 years, a total of the life expectancies of the people killed in the attack. During his sentencing, the death penalty wasn’t an option because it became legal at the federal level for Yousef’s crime a year after the bombing happened.

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